Sainted sight

Edits
A recent arrangement, partly from the yard.

This, then: the vast and strange beauty of the world and all the living things in it.

Trees have families and can recognize their children by their roots. One in twelve men are color blind. The production of almonds consumes 10% of the state of California’s water supply each year. Emily Dickinson was buried in a white coffin with a Lady’s Slipper orchid. Japanese macaques bathe together in naturally occurring hot springs and throw snowballs at each other for fun.

O Lord, refresh our sensibilities. Give us this day our daily taste. Restore to us soups that spoons will not sink in, and sauces which are never the same twice. Raise up among us stews with more gravy than we have bread to blot it with, and casseroles that put starch and substance in our limp modernity. Take away our fear of fat and make us glad of the oil which ran upon Aaron’s beard. Give us pasta with a hundred fillings, and rice in a thousand variations. Above all, give us grace to live as true men — to fast till we come to a refreshed sense of what we have and then to dine gratefully on all that comes to hand. Drive far from us, O Most Bountiful, all creatures of air and darkness; cast out the demons that possess us; deliver us from the fear of calories and the bondage of nutrition; and set us free once more in our own land, where we shall serve Thee as Thou hast blessed us — with the dew of heaven, the fatness of the earth, and plenty of corn and wine. Amen.

— Robert Farrar Capon, The Supper of the Lamb

We went to North Carolina this past weekend, taking a fast-paced tour of siblings, parents, and grandparents, and it was a pleasure to feel that rush of nostalgia for the state. In Chapel Hill, we walked through the arboretum and saw the tree where we got engaged and the church where we met and were married. As we drove, we remarked on the landscape and architecture and felt that it was a little foreign to us, now that we have lived for seven years in Virginia. But it’s not really that different. We just like to think that it is.

Problems I enjoy: Too many books to read. Too many plants to plant. Too many German shepherds in the kitchen.

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Plants doing as they please

Garden in June
The outrageous coreopsis in the front yard.

Latest obsession, because I always have one: Native plants!

I just finished Nancy Lawson’s book The Humane Gardener and have felt the full error of my amateurish ways. I have planted a handful of native southeastern plants, mostly by accident, but I am so ready to focus on them and eschew the imported, exotic interlopers. (Gardening with native plants makes you sound really xenophobic really fast.)

There are so many plants that gardeners hold up as a standard of aesthetic beauty that are non-native and often invasive — and offer zero benefits to the insects, birds and mammals that cohabitate with us. I was also reminded, by Lawson, of how arbitrary the definition of a “weed” is. Unless it really is an invasive non-native plant, “weeds” generally serve useful purposes in your local ecosystem. I am more inclined to leave (some of) them, having been more informed of what “weeds” actually belong in Virginia (such as that wild violet that I keep ripping up).

I found Lawson’s book so heartening, because it made me realize that my little yard is actually my most powerful weapon against the grave tide of climate change. I can’t do anything about the Paris Accord. I can’t do anything to persuade China or the United States or India to reduce their carbon emissions. But I can garden for my native ecosystem, and in this way, boost a little bit of the earth that falls under my purview.

A few photos of the native plants that we have thus far:

Garden in June
Christmas fern (one of three).
Garden in June
Blossoms on our gigantic black elderberry.
Garden in June
Spiderwort.
Garden in June
Even more spiderwort.
Garden in June
Little bees on the coreopsis.
End of April
Baby oakleaf hydrangea. Can’t wait for it to get HUGE.

Natives planted but still growing: Purple coneflower, more spiderwort volunteers, pokeberry (which I previously ripped out but will now allow in select areas, having been informed of its usefulness to Virginia wildlife).

Next garden ambition: To turn the area that was formerly a chicken run in the backyard into a native wildflower mini-meadow, to attract lots of pollinators and let things grow a bit wild and unchecked.

All summer long, I am happiest when I am eating an unadvisedly large quantity of cherries.

“I write to find out what I think about something.” — Anne Carson, quoted in her Art of Poetry interview, Paris Review

All that exists seduces

Front yard, Aug. 2016
Happy hostas and hydrangea in the front yard.

Life, my love, is a great seduction in which all that exists seduces.

— Clarice Lispector, The Passion According to G.H. 

(It’s going to be very Clarice-y around here until I finish The Passion According to G.H.)

I haven’t thought about Trump for days. I am at peace. I am looking forward to not thinking about him ever again for years upon years.

I am forcing my book club to read Swann’s Way, and I am so looking forward to talking with them about it. I re-read it (the glorious Lydia Davis* translation) this summer, mostly sprawled in an uncomfortable armchair in our London flat, and was continually hushed and inspired. I think I may start reading a volume a year again.

*Lydia Davis, QUEEN OF MY HEART, is a visiting fellow at the University of Virginia this semester, and I am going to every event she does here. Every one. My goal is for her to leave Charlottesville and be all, Who was that curly-haired goon who sat in the front row of all my lectures?

Free and content

Front yard in July 2015
In the summer, we take our time. We talk about the plants, the chickens, the dogs. We eat slowly. We read poems on the back deck if we want to. We sweep the kitchen again. We slide over the clouds of dog fur. We pick little theoretical fights with each other about politics, religion, or art, each of us playing devil’s advocate to the other’s position, just to make it more interesting. We dream up far-fetched home renovation plans. We fail to keep the mosquitoes away, and we never remember to put on enough sunscreen.

And I can’t help but think, every evening, Ah, we can do all of these things because we are childless.

One day, perhaps, our freedom will be interrupted. And one day, perhaps, we will welcome that interruption. But for now, we are free and content and we recognize and appreciate that.

Front yard in July 2015

Thought in parables

Home and garden, May 2015

My front-yard landscape is filling out in a clumsy kind of way, but its advancements since last year are noteworthy. Almost everything survived the long winter, which made me supremely happy. And we harvested about five cherries from the cherry tree in front, which I also consider to be a success. The plants are happy and thus I am happy. It is a simple formula.

Home and garden, May 2015
Lamb’s ear gone wild.

One mistake was underestimating how crazy lamb’s ear is. It is taking over the tiny plot I naively stuck it in. It’s time to divide and conquer.

My generous, stylish friend Cate bought me this beautiful vintage pair of Italian loafers. She gave them to me as a surprise gift, wrapped up in brown paper, before we sat down to dinner with friends. I am totally in love with these shoes, even though they pinch my gangly toes. I wear them to work as often as I can, in the (vain) hope that they will stretch. They are so perfectly narrow and charming; they make my feet magically look like the feet of a Russian novel’s desirable heroine, who always has two sexy, sexy qualities: (1) “tiny feet” and (2) “a soft, downy upper lip.” Ladies with barely-there mustaches were Tolstoy and Dostoevsky’s jam. Mercifully, I haven’t achieved that yet. But the shoes, ah, the shoes, they are perfect.

We are going on a brief summer holiday to Iceland next week; photos to come!

Also, this dog wants you to come over and play with her.

Dog life in May 2015
Edith!

The only golden ring time

Flowers from Angela
Flowers from Angela, circa 2012.

Oh, right. I already talked about Vita. But I still want to. If I ever wrote a nonfiction book, I’d want to write one like that — loose, unstructured, pretty little thoughts about a favorite topic, with the liberal dispensation of advice, such as this:

Gardening is largely a question of mixing one sort of plant with another sort of plant, and of seeing how they marry happily together; and if you see that they don’t marry happily, then you must hoick one of them out and be quite ruthless about it. That is the only way to garden; and that is why I advise every gardener to go round his garden now—and make notes of what he thinks he ought to remove and of what he wants to plant later on. The true gardener must be brutal, and imaginative for the future.

Inspired by A Joy of Gardening, when I got home from work last night, I pulled on my Hunters and walked around in the back garden with the chickens for a while, inspecting all of the plants that are slowly resurrecting themselves. I think one of our blueberry bushes didn’t survive the winter; we’ll need to get another little bush soon, so that the other two can have necessary company. The blackberry bushes, however, are thriving, and all three apple trees have started producing tiny buds on their glossy branches. The forsythia is just about to burst into yellow flame. I’ve heard that some high-class gardeners disdain forsythia, but I love it; it’s so fast-growing and hardy, and the fact that it produces that first shock of spring color will always endear me to it. I think I’d like to get a few more, to perhaps balance the yard out.

Newest additions (chickens)
One of our Japanese bantams. Might be Mayumi or Fumiko; it’s impossible to tell.

The hens have become very bold and chatty lately, especially whenever they see me. I won’t claim that chickens are the smartest winged creatures, but they are a lot brighter than people give them credit for. (You can, in fact, clicker train a chicken.) Our ladies have become much more interested in us, especially whenever they see us approaching the gate (because this means FOOD or OUTSIDE TIME TO SCRATCH UP ALL THE BEDS). They’re still quite skittish but noticeably less shy by degrees.

Last night, they were really getting into dust bathing. I’d read that chickens do this, but I’d never seen our hens partake in this particularly adorable and goofy-looking activity. At one point, one of the girls, in a little indentation she’d hollowed out for herself near the apple tree, flipped herself on her back and squirmed around while keeping her neck high, alert for danger. A hilarious, ungraceful posture, but she was having a grand time. The chicken instructional books I’d read said that chickens use dust baths to “clean themselves and socialize,” which delights me to no end. It’s the equivalent of a bunch of ladies taking a spa day together. Treat yo self, chickens. Treat yo self.

(*Title explanation: Whenever someone says something about spring, Guion and I cannot stop ourselves from putting on our best, bass-level Robert Pinsky voices and chanting, Springtime, springtime/the only golden ring time…)

And then some

“I am happier now than I think I have ever been,” I told Guion recently one night, as we were getting into bed.

Something I’ve been thinking about lately: I will probably only ever have dogs as pets, because dogs are perhaps the only animals who really want to be sharing their lives with humans. Cats could take us or leave us, and the rest of the lot (horses, rabbits, tarantulas, lizards, hamsters, parakeets, chinchillas, and so forth) would likely prefer not to share our company; they don’t revel in society of human beings. Dogs are perhaps entirely unique in this aspect.

I think a lot about animal well-being these days. And sometimes, even though we may love riding horses or wearing parrots on our shoulders, we are giving those animals a limited and frustrating existence by forcing them to live in the way we want them to. I love animals, and I want to collect them all, so this is a principle that is hard for me to accept. I’d love to have a veritable menagerie in my home, but in that instance, I am thinking only of myself and not of the animals.

What is the natural state of a parakeet? It is not in a cage in a living room. What is the natural state of a rabbit? In a den, in a meadow. What is the natural state of a betta fish? In a puddle in Thailand, not sitting in two cups of water on your kitchen table. What is the natural state of a lizard? Under a rock, in a sand dune, not in a glass terrarium. And yet, what is the natural state of a dog? In a house, connected to a human.

House cats are a secondary exception. Even though cats are not truly domesticated, many of them would not do well without human care and some seem to even like/tolerate people. I have no objection to people having cats, and I sometimes think I would like a cat, although perhaps for the wrong reasons (they strike me as excellent home decor; cats make every room look elegant).

That said, we might get chickens one day, but I don’t consider chickens to be pets, even though we will treat them with lovingkindness and not eat them. Chickens do not exist in the wild, so they, along with other livestock, are a notable exception to this rule (animals we have domesticated to suit our needs vs. animals we have turned into pets over time).

A strange thing to write or even think about, but it’s something that has been taking up space in my brain.

Gardening has become one of my chief pursuits — specifically, landscaping the front yard. (Guion has jurisdiction over the backyard, including the large vegetable garden.) My goal is to eradicate all of the grass and fill the entire space with plants. I want to spend every spare penny on plants. On Monday, we planted ferns, an obsidian heuchera, a young crape myrtle, and a full flat of pachysandra, to jumpstart my groundcover ambitions. (We also bought, in our overeager desire, allium and crocus bulbs, which will need to be planted in October.)

I consider myself an amateur, experimental gardener. The internet, along with vestiges of my mother’s advice, are the only reasons I know anything about plants. I do a little bit of research, and then I just go out and buy what appeals to me visually. Naturally, I’ve already made many errors, but my joy knows no bounds when plants succeed.

Recently

Lemon tree and friends | Abby Farson Pratt
Lemon tree & friends.
  • The weather lately: Putting me in such a good mood.
  • Our neighbor has two mature cherry trees, both of which branch over partially into our yard, so we are experiencing a delightful harvest right now. Guion has made a fabulous cherry cobbler, and we hope to repeat that effort shortly. The only downside is that the dogs like to go rooting around for fallen cherries, the pits of which happen to contain cyanide. So, we’re always on anti-cherry-hunting alert.
  • My summer passion for reading has flared up again. Currently reading and particularly enjoying The Goldfinch (I always read the popular books months behind everyone else). I can’t put my finger on why it’s so riveting to me; maybe it’s just been a while since I read a great orphan saga. But I’ve never liked Dickens, and this reminds me so much of Dickens. So why do I love it so much? I don’t know. Maybe the secret is hidden somewhere in Donna Tartt’s magical hair.
  • Also reading: The Control of Nature, by John McPhee (such a gifted writer with such a typically dry subject matter, e.g., levees); The Book of Illusions, by Paul Auster (which I find very boring); and The Social Animal, by David Brooks (one of the strangest and most mystifying premises I’ve ever come across in a cultural nonfiction book).

#fridaynight

  • I would like to have a better spoken vocabulary. A large part of the problem is that I visually know more words than I am comfortable with pronouncing. Concupiscence stumped me at book club last week. And all of those foreign (usually French) phrases that I wouldn’t touch with my tongue: fin de siècle, aperçu, fait accompli, etc.
  • I am weary of embittered feminist blogs. Even though I like to claim myself as an embittered feminist, that ish gets real old real fast.
  • Knowing what a dog is going to do before the dog knows itself.
  • This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.

Mute gospel

Party aftermath. #tulips #maidenhairfern

We are going to see Gran this weekend, and Kelsey and Alex are coming to meet us here for the trek to Ohio. We will be in the car more than we will be out of it, but I am trying to see this as a positive thing. When else will we have so much uninterrupted time to talk with the Grays?

“What is a farm but a mute gospel?”

— Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Nature”

Due to various reasons (Dylan Farrow, various other reports and anecdotes about rape, among them), I have been thinking about the rape culture that we live in. And how it is impressed on you, even as a little girl, that you are never truly safe. My default mode of thinking, even now, is to assume that all unknown men are evil (or mostly evil). And that’s how you keep yourself safe. You are always on guard, never trusting, always keeping them at arm’s length or further. Yes, it’s a sad way to live. Yes, I wish that wasn’t my mindset. But it is.

This is why, whenever I hear people say that we don’t need feminism, that the sexes are equal enough, I cannot hold my tongue (or my rage). Are we equal? Ask a man when he last felt afraid to walk to his car in a parking lot at night. Ask a man if he’s ever felt frightened to take a walk by himself. Ask a man when he was last nervous to walk on a heavily trafficked street or by a construction site or by an idling truck, waiting for a barrage of sexual obscenities to be screamed at him. Ask a man when he last had to fear sexual harassment from a boss, a coworker, an authority figure.

Yes, men experience rape, harassment, and violence, too, but I’d wager that it is not a reality that’s constantly lurking in the back of their minds — as it is for women. So tell me: If we were equal, would this be the case? Would rape kits go untested? Would victims of sexual violence be blamed for their actions? Would 1 in 5 women report having been raped in their lifetimes?

I don’t have a conclusion for this rant. I just had to put it somewhere, to file it in a long list of grievances at the state of the world.

It is not pleasant to live in fear. Ask Pyrrha; she knows.

Portrait of a lady. #germanshepherd #vscocam

My heart swells when I think about how far she has come. Come May, she’ll have been with us for two years. And what a different dog she is now! She is still afraid of many things, and she always will be, but this gentle, daily work of teaching her that she is safe and loved has been therapeutic — to both of us, I think. Even when the progress seems infinitesimal. Progress is still progress.